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American Annals of the Deaf

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Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer

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Edmund had been in California for 10 months, and had received only one packet of letters from home. He wrote to Mary Ann of his disappointment and his desire to come home: “the last letter I had from you was of date Jan. 3rd—seven months ago. A paper afterwards, marked Feb. 13th, I rec’d in May. Such is a part of life in California. . . . I shall be glad to be at home again. There is no place like home, and I am weary of this wandering life. It is restless and unsatisfactory.”23

B A C K home in Iowa, Mary Ann and the children were having an eventful summer of 1850. At one point, she and Thomas joined a wagonload of family and friends, including Edmund’s sister, Hannah, and her children, Maria, William, and Harlow, for a day of blackberry picking west of Fairview. Julius and J. M. Peet, Ambrose and Neal Parsons, and others had opened up prairie farms along a section of timber stretching for miles east to west. Mary Ann, always independent and sometimes obstinate, often went off in her own direction. On this day, the other berry pickers went west along the Parsons Way, while Mary Ann and Thomas took the Fairview road directly east. They walked along the heavy timber, mostly great white oaks, and turned northward into a valley of dense undergrowth, where they found a large patch of berries. Within an hour they had wandered apart and out of sight of each other. Thomas looked up and down the hollow, realizing there was no way to call out for his deaf mother. He tramped up and down and over the hills and back again, always fearing wildcats. Finally, terror-stricken, he started for home, taking the path that led to the highway. He walked west toward Mrs. Olmstead’s log cabin, a quarter of a mile east from Fairview, and then on to his Uncle Henry’s house, a distance of probably one mile altogether. He imagined his mother frantically searching for him, similarly fearing wildcats and rattlesnakes. Fortunately, Mary Ann also found her way back.24

During that same summer, Hattie was knocked unconscious in a fall while playing. She at first appeared dead, but she was revived. Thomas, too, had a narrow escape when he was thrown from a wagon at his Uncle Henry’s place. The oxen had suddenly started forward, and the quick thinking of a friend, who pulled him aside, possibly saved Tom’s life.

As time passed, Mary Ann grew increasingly upset about living with relatives. In the early fall, when Henry Booth began working at Gideon Ford’s hotel, the Wapsipinicon House, she and the children had to move into the hotel. They were now living with two of Edmund’s siblings.


I N  T H E fall of 1850, Edmund sent Mary Ann three-fourths of an ounce of gold from the Tuolumne River at Jacksonville. He explained that the gold there was being dug up as both fine dust and in lumps washed down the river from the mountains. He put the gold in a cloth to prevent the lumps from breaking holes through the paper, but he feared that the letter would be lost or stolen because of its weight. “What is here is a sample of the dry diggings,” he wrote to her. “It is the same in the river with the addition of more fine dust. You can use it as you please.” Edmund explained that if the gold was not bright she should throw it into water and shake it. California gold was not as yellow as gold coins because it also contained silver. He had seen both pure silver and quicksilver in lumps of gold, as well as quartz in some of the lumps. He told Mary Ann that “these make no difference with us in regard to value.”25 He planned to send a larger quantity of gold to San Francisco and then have a reliable company forward her a bank draft, which she could exchange for money. He would keep a duplicate of the draft. If the one he sent to Mary Ann was stolen, he explained, it would be of no use unless endorsed by her.


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